The Wisconsin Partnership Program’s Partnership Education and Research Committee awarded the following Collaborative Health Sciences Program grants in 2014:

Genetic Susceptibility to Infection in Wisconsin Hmong

Bruce Klein, MD, Pediatrics
Award: $500,000 over three years

This project focuses on blastomycosis infection among Hmong-ancestry populations, which have a sharply elevated incidence of the disease. Dr. Klein, co-principal investigator Dr. Caitlin Pepperell and an interdisciplinary team will study the role of immune response genes in altering susceptibility to blastomycosis. Researchers also hope to learn how genetic variation affects inflammatory responses involved in a range of infectious and autoimmune diseases.

Blastomycosis is caused by a soil fungus, and the infection can lead to respiratory failure and neurological damage. Beyond broad geographic patterns in incidence, it is not possible to identify people at risk of developing the disease. It is difficult to isolate the fungus from the environment and individual variation in susceptibility isn’t understood.

Personalized Vitamin D Supplementation in European and African Americans

Corinne Engelman, MSPH, PhD, Population Health Sciences
Award: $499,997 over three years

Researchers seek to validate an algorithm they developed for personalizing vitamin D deficiency treatment. The algorithm, which addresses the wide variation in biological response to fixed-dose supplementation, allows the researchers to advance personalized clinical care by estimating the vitamin D dosage needed to achieve the targeted blood concentration.

The researchers will test and refine the algorithm by examining several factors that likely contribute to the variability in response to vitamin D supplementation. Because of differences in bone and vitamin D metabolism between women of European descent and those of African descent, the researchers seek to validate the algorithm in two independent samples of post-menopausal women.

PI3K/PTEN Targeted Therapy for HPV-Associated Cancers

Paul Lambert, PhD, Oncology
Award: $500,000 over three years

Current treatments for cervical, head and neck cancers caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) rely on decades-old approaches and are associated with high rates of recurrence and poor survival. This project seeks to identify treatments that improve outcomes for patients with these HPV-associated cancers. The researchers also seek to identify which of these new generation cancer drugs will work best for an individual patient.

While HPV vaccines hold promise in preventing new infections, there is an urgent need for improved treatment for those people already infected. About 20 million people in the United States are infected with HPV, although most do not know they have it. It is estimated that 6 million more people will be infected each year.

Zooming in On Childhood Asthma: Disease Causality and Personalized Medicine

Xin Sun, PhD, Medical Genetics
Award: $500,000 over three years

This project will identify the genomic variations that contribute to the development of asthma, with the goal to develop genomic diagnosis tools to enable personalized treatments. In Wisconsin, 12 percent of adults and 11 percent of children have been diagnosed with asthma. The incidence is higher in obese individuals and underserved African American population. Asthma symptoms in over 30,000 Wisconsin children are not well or poorly controlled.

The project builds on findings from the Childhood Origins of Asthma (COAST) study at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, one of the largest and longest-running asthma birth cohort studies in the country. The team of researchers will sieve through candidate asthma genetic regions to identify asthma causal genes using the latest genome editing tools. Their findings will serve to establish a Wisconsin Childhood Asthma Gene-Presentation Registry, which will aid in predicting disease development and personalized response to drug treatments.